Gandalf on Sovereign Plans

gandalf the greyNear the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Grey has a very frank discussion with Frodo, in which he explains much of the history and nature of The Ring of Power.  Within this conversation, Tolkien sets the stage for the remainder of The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, while providing insight into some profound truths revealed throughout this work of fiction.

In discussing how Gollum came to lose the ring, and how Frodo came to find it, Gandalf explains:

It was the strangest event in the whole history of the Ring so far: Bilbo’s arrival just at that time, and putting his hand on it, blindly, in the dark.

There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur’s hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Déagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him. It could make no further use of him: he was too small and mean; and as long as it stayed with him he would never leave his deep pool again. So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thought from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!

Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.

This complex interworking of plans of conflicting powers is carried throughout the remainder of the LOTR trilogy, but is seldom expressed so clearly as here.

We have, first of all, the individual wills and choices of both Gollum and Bilbo.  The ring may have slipped unbidden from Gollum’s finger, but Gollum himself failed to notice the slip and failed to take preventative action to secure the ring.  Moreover, Gollum chose to leave his hidden underground lake to capture a goblin.  Bilbo, for his part, discovered the ring completely by accident, yet made a deliberate choice to pick it up and place it in his pocket.  Beyond that, though, were a whole series of choices by Bilbo, beginning with the decision to join Thorin and Company, that resulted in his being in the exact place at the exact time to encounter the ring after it slipped from Gollum’s finger.

Then we have a plethora of seeming random events and choices involved, from Gandalf’s selection of Bilbo to share the dwarves’ adventures to Bilbo being unseated and banging his head in the dark, during the surprise goblin attack from behind.

Somehow, in the midst of all those seemingly random events and decisions by multiple persons, we have the evil will of The Ring responding to the will of its maker, to be reunited with its evil creator, Sauron.  A dark and evil pair of wills pursuing gratification through the seemingly random choices and events of everyday persons.

Finally, we have Gandalf’s assurance that:

Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.

The ring and its maker had their evil designs.  Yet there was a greater power at work… a power with a better understanding of Bilbo’s heart…a power with the ability to use the evil plans of Sauron to thwart him and accomplish plans for good.

Yet, despite Gandalf’s deep awareness and conviction of the sovereign plans of a higher power, there is no sense, at all, of fatalism.  Rather, Gandalf continually responds with a call to action and frequently expresses the need for urgency in combatting evil.  The assurance of the plans of a sovereign higher power being carried out through our daily choices in no way lessens our responsibility to act for good and against evil…rather it heightens our responsibility.

However, in regard to past choices or things beyond his control, Gandalf shows surprisingly little concern.  When, at The Council of Elrond, he learns from Legolas that Gollum has escaped, rather than expressing alarm or regret, Gandalf simply responds:

‘Well, well, he is gone,’ said Gandalf. ‘We have no time to seek for him again. He must do what he will. But he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron have foreseen.

For things beyond his control, Gandalf seems to place great confidence in divine power to work all things for good.  And, of course, Gollum’s escape turned out to be a very good thing, in the end.  Despite Gollum’s selfish intent, his actions were essential to the accomplishment of the mission and the overthrow of Sauron’s evil power.  Without Gollum’s betrayal, both Frodo and all of Middle Earth would have succumbed to the power of The Ring.

Throughout the LOTR trilogy, Tolkien consistently portrays the principle expressed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28-30:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

And Gandalf, himself, seems to have followed the principles expressed in the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity,

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

I find courage in knowing God is working within me for the fulfilment of His plans, and I find serenity in knowing the many things beyond my control are still in God’s control and still subject to His plans.

Your thoughts?

[Linked to WIP , Graceful , Wellspring ]

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Gandalf on Sovereign Plans

  1. Joe, knowing God is in control and that He has a plan for my life (almost) always gives me great comfort. Sometimes I still get scared of the moments, but when I focus on the big picture I am thrilled and amazed to be part of His great and wondrous plan!

    • “…thrilled and amazed to be part of His great and wondrous plan!”

      AMEN!

      So amazing to actually be included as a part of His plan!

      Thank you, Denise!

    • YES! I love the Genesis story of Joseph! Such an amazing opportunity for insight into the interworkings of God’s sovereign plan being carried out within the individual choices of multiple individuals!

      Thank you, Connie!

  2. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed your insight on Gandalf and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It one of my favorite series of all times. Well done on showing the biblical principles embedded in the story. I will enjoy revisiting this epic with this focus in mind.

    Visiting here via “Hear it on Sunday”.

    ~ Cassandra from Renaissance Women

    • Thank you, Cassandra!

      Yes, Tolkien remains favorite, for me.

      I’ve just finished rereading the LOTR trilogy, and found a lot more depth than I remembered…seems my additional life experiences continue to provide new perspective…

  3. “The assurance of the plans of a sovereign higher power being carried out through our daily choices in no way lessens our responsibility to act for good and against evil…rather it heightens our responsibility.”

    Very well said, Joe. I just love turning this story around and around. That Tolkien. Genius.

  4. What a great post, Joe. LOTR is filled with spiritual wisdom and insight into the workings of good and evil, and the power of free will.

    I’m especially drawn to your closing scripture of Romans 8:28 (God causes all things to work together for good). It’s so true. The night before my mom’s brain surgery, I went into her room and asked her what she thought of her diagnosis of a brain tumor, suspected to be cancer. She immediately quoted Romans 8:28. She spoke that truth as prophecy over me and my family, and even though we’re heartbroken that she died a few weeks ago, we are amazed at how much good God has done in our lives. He’s amazing like that.

    I’ve just signed up for your email subscription. I look forward to reading your email updates…:)

    Lori

    • “She spoke that truth as prophecy over me and my family.”

      Beautifully stated, Lori! God’s word is truth…and all things conform to the power of His word.

      Thank you, so much, for that vivid example.

      Praying for you and your family in your time of sorrow…and rejoicing with you in the power of God’s truth!

    • Definitely intentional…yet intentionally indirect and incomplete parallels…

      Tolkien and his close friend, C.S. Lewis, were both pioneers in fantasy literature. Both were Christians, and both intended their novels to carry Christian themes. Both were also adamantly opposed to the use of allegories, which were seen as clumsy propaganda attempts of the writer to sneakily impose his views on the reader.

      Within those parameters, the two chose divergent approaches. Lewis often told Tolkien that his Christian themes were so hidden the reader would never find them. Tolkien told Lewis that his themes were too open, that they would turn non-Christian readers off, and they were far too close to allegorical.

      Tolkien felt that the meaning of a novel should have more to do with the reader’s perspective and experiences than the writer’s. The writer’s task was to write a compelling story rich with opportunity for the reader to draw his own meaning and parallels.

      I was exposed to both Tolkien and Lewis at a very young age. As a child I preferred Lewis’ straightforward style. As an adult I have more appreciation for Tolkien’s subtle style. Tolkien’s philosophy allows me, as a reader, to draw my own real truths from his fictional characters without having to concern myself overly much with whether or not my view matches the author’s intent.

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